Sermon/Study Guide: Daniel: Revealer of Mysteries

Author: Steve Hixon

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Revealer of Mysteries


As to the date of the composition of Daniel, the first chapter refers to Daniel's capture in 605 B.C., and Daniel continued his public service until the first year of Cyrus (1:21), i.e., about 537 B.C. Daniel probably completed his memoirs c. 532 B.C., when he was about ninety years old. The appearance of Persian-derived governmental terms in Daniel strongly suggests that it was given its final form after Persian had become the official language of the government. Actually, the text of Daniel is in two languages: Hebrew (chs. 1, 8-12) and Aramaic (chs. 2-7). The Aramaic chapters pertain to the Babylonian and Persian empires, whereas the other six chapters relate to God's special plans for his covenant people.

- NIV Bible Commentary

The Old Testament book of Daniel is an amazing piece of literature. Simply constructed and yet incredibly complex, full of human-interest stories as well as mind-boggling prophecies, suitable for children’s bed-time reading and still challenging for the graduate student of history, it seems almost too good to be true. Scorned by liberal Bible critics and defended by conservatives who hold to Biblical inerrancy, it is a watershed book for many. It flushes out our real beliefs: Did this stuff really happen? Can I trust the prophetic calendar it offers? Will I submit to the God whose sovereignty leaps out from every page?
For a document that is literally “ancient history” (it’s over two-and-a-half millennia old), a surprising amount of Daniel’s content has crept into our language, culture and thoughts. Have you ever heard the familiar phrase, “the handwriting’s on the wall” ? What comes to your mind when you hear about a “lions’ den” or a “fiery furnace”? Images of battling angels and answered prayers, prophetic predictions of future world empires and despotic rulers who embody evil, themes of good underdogs taking a stand against overpowering odds—all these are found within the pages of this book. Even the now-familiar patterns of exciting adventure stories find their roots in Daniel; the “cliff-hanger” motif we see in 21st-century movies comes straight from the plot-lines of this 26th-century (BC) volume.
The book of Daniel is a literary gift to the world, and a special gift to those who are willing to listen to its call to know and worship the true God, to stand firm in the midst of a contrary culture, to watch world events with a sense of anticipation, and to live with an urgency that comes from knowing that a sovereign Creator may bring history to a startling conclusion at any moment!

Taken captive as a youth, Daniel is used by God as “the prophet in the palace” during the 70-year period of Judah’s exile in Babylon. Confronting pagan kings with God’s worldwide rule, Daniel sets forth dreams and interpretations of dreams that unfold the world’s history from Daniel’s day far into the future—from here to eternity. But Daniel is more than a man of the future. He is also a man of faith, taking a courageous stand for God in the face of fiery furnaces and roaring lions.”

- Walk-Thru the Bible Ministries

Table of Contents

Study Guide
Subject King
in Power
(approx.) &
Historical context
Chronology & Map
Critic’s Den
1 1 “The Crucible” Daniel & friends in Babylon Nebuchadnezzar 605 BC
2 2 “Where is History Going?” Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of world empires Nebuchadnezzar 605-600 BC
3 3 “Out of the Frying Pan...” Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego in the furnace Nebuchadnezzar 575-562 BC
4 4 “The Hard Death of Pride” God humbles the king Nebuchadnezzar 575-562 BC
5 5 “Bow While You can” Handwriting on the wall Belshazzar’s last night Oct. 12, 539 BC
6 6 “Jehovah Delivers” Daniel in the Lions’ den Darius the Mede 538 BC
7 7 “Things to Come” Daniel’s dream of four beasts Belshazzar’s 1st year 555 BC
8 7 Daniel’s vision of ram & goat Belshazzar’s 3rd year 552 BC
9 7 Daniel’s prayer & Gabriel’s visit Darius’ 1st year 538 BC
10 8 “The Last Battle” Daniel’s angelic visitor Cyrus’ 3rd year 536 BC
11 8 Israel’s future conflicts Cyrus’ 3rd year 536 BC
12 8 Final questions & answers Cyrus’ 3rd year 535 BC

Historical Context of Daniel’s Lifetime

Sometimes it helps to see what else is going on around a historical figure, to provide the context. Daniel’s long life spanned the lives and reigns of several kings and two major world empires. His stay in the city of Babylon was almost exactly 70 years - the time prophesied in Jeremiah 29:10 as the period of Israel’s captivity - and Daniel saw the first return of Jews to Jerusalem.

ZERUBBABEL (Hebrew zerubbavel, shoot of Babylon). The son of Shealtiel and the grandson of King Jehoiachin (Ezra 3:2; Hag 1:1; Matt 1:13).
When Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to their own land, he appointed Zerubbabel governor of the colony (Ezra 1:8, 11; 5:14). Joshua the high priest was the religious leader. When they reached Jerusalem, they first set up the altar of burnt offering, then they proceeded to lay the foundation of the new temple. Soon, however, opposition arose. The adversaries of the Jews made an apparently friendly offer of assistance (Ezra 4), but Zerubbabel and the other leaders rebuffed them; therefore they wrote to the king and succeeded in stopping the work. In 520 B.C. the work was resumed and was completed four years later. A great celebration was held at the dedication of the new temple (6:16-22).

- NIV Bible Dictionary

JEREMIAH (Heb. yirmeyahu, Jehovah founds, or perhaps, exalts).
Jeremiah was one of the greatest Hebrew prophets, born into a priestly family of Anathoth, a Benjamite town two and a half miles (four km.) NE of Jerusalem. Because of the autobiographical nature of his book, it is possible to understand his life, character, and times better than those of any other Hebrew prophet. Jeremiah was called to prophesy in the 13th year of King Josiah (626 B.C.), five years after the last great revival before Judah's captivity (2 Kings 23). This was a time of decision, a time filled with both hope and foreboding, the time of the revival of the Babylonian Empire. Jeremiah's ministry continued through the reigns of five successive Judean kings; Jeremiah saw the final destruction of Jerusalem in 587 and died in Egypt, probably a few years later.

EZEKIEL (Heb. yehezqel, God strengthens). A Hebrew prophet of the Exile. Of a priestly family (1:3), Ezekiel grew up in Judea during the last years of Hebrew independence and was deported to Babylon with Jehoiachin in 597 B.C., probably early in life. He was thus a contemporary of Jeremiah and Daniel. Ezekiel was married (24:18) and lived with the Jewish exiles by the irrigation canal Kebar (1:1, 3; 3:15) which connected the Tigris River with the Euphrates above Babylon; Daniel carried out his quite different work in the Babylonian court.

Chronological Flow of Chapters in Daniel

Map of the Middle East

BABYLON This is the Greek form of the Hebrew word Babel, which means "confusion" (Gen.11v9). It was one of the oldest cities in the world (Gen.10v10). Hammurabi, the great lawgiver, became its ruler in the 18th century B.C. Babylon later reached its zenith of power under King Nebuchadnezzar II (circa 605-562 B.C.), capturing Jerusalem and its leading people in the process and deporting them all to Babylonia. However, according to God's prophecy through Daniel (Dn.5v1-30), it was conquered by the Persian, King Cyrus in 539 B.C. through Darius the Mede. The Medo-Persian empire adopted a benign policy regarding the repatriation of its various peoples and encouraged some of them to return to their homeland. About 50,000 Jews availed themselves of this providential opportunity. Babylon is often mentioned in prophecy (Mic.4v10; Am.5v25-27; Isa.13v1, Isa.13v19; Isa.14v22; Isa.21v; Isa.46v; Isa.47v; Jer.50v; Jer.51v; Eze.17v12, Eze.17v16, Eze.17v20; Eze.19v9 et al.; Zech.2v7). Babylon was famous for its "hanging gardens," one of the eight wonders of the world. But today only ruins remain, according to prophecies from God. In the N.T. Babylon was a symbol of strong, organized opposition to God's purpose (1Pet.5v13; Rev.14v8; Rev.16v19; Rev.18v2, Rev.18v10, Rev.18v21).

Overview of the Prophecies in Daniel

While the book of Daniel contains an abundance of prophecies (135 alone in chapter 11!), many of them overlap each other in the predicting of major world kingdoms which lead up to the time of Christ’s 1st and 2nd Comings. Chapter 9 is an exception in that it supplies us with a timeline of “weeks” (periods of 7 years) from the rebuilding of the temple until the end of time.

11, 12
Nebuchadnezzar’s Statue Dream Daniel’s Dream of 4 beasts Daniel’s Vision from Gabriel Gabriel’s 2nd message to Daniel Angel’s message to Daniel
626-539 BC
Gold Head Lion
539-331 BC
Silver Chest & Arms Bear
2-Horned Ram

One horn longer than the other

7 x 7 = 49 years
4th Persian king (Xerxes) invades Greece
331-63 BC
Bronze Belly & Thighs Leopard
Shaggy Goat

One horn breaks off, 4 take its place

62 x 7 = 434 years

until AD 33 Jesus’ Triumphal Entry

4 Kings
Antiochus IV fore-shadows antiChrist
63 BC — AD 476
Iron Legs Beast
Church Age--Undetermined Period of Time--Age of the Spirit
Revived form of Rome Feet of Iron & Clay

10 Kings

10 Horns--Little Horn

“time, times, half a time”

70th “Seven”

3 1/2 yrs--Great Tribulation

antiChrist exalts himself...
...comes to his end
Kingdom of God Rock Son & saints rule Kingdom of God

A Word about Prophecy
Daniel and things to come

The Purpose of Prophecy

Why does God give us hints about the future, especially when he doesn’t reveal exactly when it will all happen? It seems like he just whets our appetite, and then withholds the crucial information we crave. We can identify with the disciples who asked Jesus just before His ascension, “Master, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now? Is this the time?" His somewhat disappointing answer told them to focus on the present and on how they could serve God’s kingdom today:

He told them, "You don't get to know the time. Timing is the Father's business. What you'll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world."

- Acts 1:6-8, The Message

It seems that God provides glimpses of what’s to come for a number of reasons. First, he wants to remind us who’s “on the throne”. God is in charge of history; he alone is sovereign. He doesn’t have to consult anyone in order to make a decision. He brings empires to power and he deposes them when he sees fit, and he has chosen mankind’s final day. So even when things seem chaotic, he is in control, although he is never the author of evil. He may allow evil men to have power temporarily, but it won’t last.

Second, he wants to encourage us to “hang in there”. Ask yourself, what is the most common setting for prophetic literature? Times of crisis. Ezekiel and Daniel prophesied during Israel’s Babylonian captivity, when the nation was “lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut”! And again, at the end of the first century when Christians were being used as lion bait in Roman sporting events, God gave the book of Revelation. These were times when believers could easily feel that God had abandoned them, that he was unable or unwilling to intervene.

Thirdly, he wants us to “long for his appearing” (2 Timothy 2:14). The followers of Jesus “wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13) While we may not be able to predict who the antichrist is, or what day the Greta Tribulation will begin, we live with the urgency that it could be today.

Limited Old Testament Perspective

Not all prophecy gives us the entire story. Three things are important to keep in mind. First, God gives us “progressive revelation” in the Bible. What this means is that things tend to get clearer the farther along in the Bible that they appear. For instance, we have a very fuzzy picture of the Messiah as far back as Genesis 3. We see hints throughout the Old Testament (Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, Malachi 3), but when Jesus is born in the gospels, we hear his name for the first time, and by the book of Revelation we see him as the glorified Son of God. Likewise, prophecy “adds up” throughout the Scriptures.

Second, one of the most difficult things for Old testament believers to foresee was the Church Age, in which we now live. To them , it looked as though the Messiah would come and immediately vanquish all his foes and bring in an era of peace and tranquility. When Jesus died and thousands of his followers suffered, it was hard to reconcile these seemingly inconsistent facts. However, the “mountain range” illustration is helpful: a person looking along a mountain range from one of the mountains simply sees the biggest peak in the distance, and the ridge between is foreshortened in his view. However, if that same person looks at the entire range from the plains, he can see the different peaks and valleys in between clearly. In the Old Testament, the prophets looked ahead and saw two events as one “mountain”, although there was an invisible (to them) valley in between. The two events were the first and second coming of Christ; he came initially to die for us, he will come again to judge the world. That is clear to us now, but it wasn’t clear to those living before the first century.

Third, in a similar way, the book of Daniel uses a technique known as “foreshadowing” wherein a “type” of the ultimate person to come appears on the scene and exhibits some, but not all, of their characteristics. For example, Joseph in the book of Genesis, is a “type” of Jesus in that he is taken to Egypt, appears sinless, is misunderstood and persecuted unjustly, and in the end provides physical “salvation” (in the form of food during a drought) for his own people. In the same way, the historical person of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (see the Special Focus study later in this introduction) is so evil and bent on the destruction and humiliation of Israel that he (in Daniel 11:21-35) “prefigures” the antichrist (Daniel 11:36-45).

What information does Daniel supply?

We are told many things related to the future in this book. Here are just a few:

First, Daniel lived during a time when pagan nations pretty much had their way with Israel, to the point of destroying Jerusalem and the Temple and banishing its people. The hard-fought “Promised Land” had been taken away. Israel, which had been strong and influential in its “Golden Age” of David and Solomon, suddenly felt puny and inconsequential.

In Daniel, however, we see a different perspective. God knows what’s ahead. He brings down the Babylonian empire in Daniel’s lifetime and gives power to the Medo-Persians, but he reveals that their time, too, will be limited. Greece will come, but their days as world rulers are numbered as well. The only kingdom that will not end is the final kingdom of God’s own Messiah:

"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”(Daniel 7:13,14)

Second, God shows that he deals not only with the “big picture” of whole empires, but he deals with their leaders as well. Daniel watches in amazement as Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful man of earth, is repeatedly brought to his knees by God’s awesome power. God wants the king to personally grasp the fact that God of Israel is the one true ruler of the earth.

Third, while God cares about pagan nations, he focuses especially on Israel. The book of Daniel outlines inter-testamental Middle Eastern history, as it related to Israel, in a way that is so precise that liberal scholars claim it must have been written after the fact.

Fourth, Daniel portrays the figure of the “antichrist” repeatedly and in great detail; he is an evil person who will be further described in the book of Revelation.

When will the world end?

Many people who study prophecy do so assuming that if they spend enough time and buy enough books, they will be able to generates kind of “crystal ball” that will tell them when something is about to happen. But God has purposely hidden that information from man. He has not told us what day, what year or even in what millennium He will return; He only promised His followers that he will come back. When Jesus spoke to his disciple on the Mount of Olives shortly before his death (Matthew 24-25), he said, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father...Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come... So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Daniel in the Critic’s Den
why this book is so controversial

Few books of the Bible have been as harshly criticized as the book of Daniel. The primary reason for this is that the book of Daniel claims to have been written hundreds of years before the events it describes in its prophetic sections.
Daniel describes the adventures of a Jewish exile who was born in Jerusalem, deported to Babylon in 605 B.C. and spent the rest of his life serving in the courts of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius and Cyrus. This much is not a problem for the secular historian or the Biblical critic.
However, two things bother those who, as Francis Schaeffer described, subscribe to the worldview which limits events to “the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system”.1 In other words, those with an a priori assumption that (1) miracles by definition cannot happen, and (2) it is impossible for God to break into human history and predict future events, find it hard to accept much of the contents of the book. For example, two stories describe miraculous events: Daniel’s three friends are thrown into a fiery furnace and emerge unscathed, and later Daniel himself is cast into a den of hungry lions and lives to tell about it. It is much easier for the critic to assume these are merely “nice stories” without basis in historical fact, and that they are simply meant to encourage virtues such as bravery, faith and integrity, much as Aesop’s Fables do for children today.
The other major problem for critics has to do with the extremely detailed prophecies which dominate the entire second half of the book. The content of those chapters is clearly an accurate portrayal of inter-testamental (4th through 2nd-century B.C.) Near-Eastern history. If Daniel was really the author, and he wrote the book in the 6th century B.C., it would have to be supernatural predictive literature. However, this is impossible for someone with a rationalistic worldview to accept. Therefore, most liberal scholars today subscribe to the theory that Daniel was written by someone else (a “pious forgery”) in the 2nd century B.C. who was simply looking back upon historical events and recording them after they had already happened.
Listen to how the Oxford History of the Biblical World, (a supposedly reputable but actually very liberal source), comments upon the miraculous spiritual awakening of King Nebuchadnezzar, whom Daniel says, in chapter 4, professed to believe in the God of Israel:
“Many today deny that the prophet Daniel wrote this book, particularly the last six chapters. The most common argument is that the remarkably accurate "predictions" in Daniel (esp. ch. 11) were the result of a pious fraud, perpetrated by some zealous propagandist of the Maccabean movement, who wished to encourage a spirit of heroism among the Jewish patriots resisting Antiochus IV. Many modern scholars claim that every accurate prediction in Daniel was written after it had already been fulfilled, i.e., in the period of the Maccabean revolt (168-65 BC).
The clear testimony of the book itself, however, is that Daniel was the author (cf. 8:1; 9:2, 20; 10:2). Nor is there any question that Jesus also accepted Daniel as the author of this book (Mt 24:15; cf. Dan. 9:27). Furthermore, careful linguistic and historical analysis of the book supports a date much earlier than the second century BC.”
- NIV Bible Commentary
“The sudden changes of heart, through which foreign rulers acknowledged the sovereignty of God, did not really happen...”
The same supposedly reputable volume also dismisses Daniel’s predictions:
“All but the most conservative interpreters agree that these chapters date from the time of the Maccabean revolt (167-163 BC). Today we understand them as prophecies after the fact...”

As we study the Bible, we are constantly challenged with the question: Is this really the word of God, or is it just another fallible human book? The answer to that question determines what place we will give it in our lives and hearts. Is it merely a great collection of heart-warming stories to guide us in our values, or is it much more than that—indeed, the only document on the planet that accurately describes the character of God, the nature of man, and the history and destiny of the world? It claims to be “God-breathed”, the absolute truth given to us by man’s Creator.

1 Example: Rudolph Bultmann, (1884-1976) liberal German theologian and proponent of Form Criticism, said “it follows that there never has been and never will be an event within history of which God has been the effective cause.” He added, “an historical fact which involves a resurrection from the dead is utterly inconceivable.”

- Josh McDowell, More Evidence that Demands a Verdict, p.8

Copyright © 2001 Steve Hixon - All Rights Reserved.